Mashing It Up With Girl Talk

Girl Talk is Gregg Gillis, a Pittsburgh, Pa-based DJ and producer. He creates party songs made entirely out of samples. His latest album is “Feed the Animals,” out now on Illegal Art. He is playing the House of Blues on October 17th. He recently wrote in to discuss his approach to crafting music, his live show, and why he loves pop music.

What was the first track you created for “Feed the Animals?”
I put together the album as one 54-minute piece of music. The track separation was the last thing I did, just to make it easier to navigate.

Do you have a favorite track off the album?
I think it works best as a whole. I don’t have a favorite track.

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about Girl Talk?
I think some people misunderstand the history of the project, especially in regard to the live show. I’ve always played a laptop. I’ve never spun records. I’ve never played an unaltered song in the live setting. It’s all live sample triggering. I don’t play other peoples’ songs; I manipulate and collage them.

Did you use any different methods of putting the songs together for “Feed the Animals” than “Night Ripper?”
It was a very similar process. On “Feed the Animals,” I just had more time towards developing material. I was able to focus on subtle production aspects more. I think the album is more dense because of it.

How do you find the individual instrumental parts and a capellas from songs?
I sample instrumental segments from the songs, just looping particular parts to sustain them. For a capelleas, they are oftentimes released on the B-sides of 12″ singles or they are all over the Internet these days.

What made you think of splicing so many different styles of music together?
When I was getting started, I was interested in the juxtaposition of noise and pop. I wanted to make avant-garde music out of Top 40. It was more interesting compositionally to me to have a variety of sources.

Do you have any favorite styles of tracks to put together?
It changes everyday, whatever I’m feeling at that particular moment. This week I’ve been dealing with a bunch of classic 90’s hip hop.

What was the first track you created in this style?
I would have to trace it back to around ’98 with my band from high school. Although this material was way more experimental, it was my introduction to doing sound collage. We had a bunch of skipping CD’s and manipulated tapes all layered together on a 4-track. There were no genre constraints. It was a mess, on purpose though.

Do you have a favorite rapper/vocalist to sample?
It all depends on the delivery for a particular track. In general, I like heavy rhythmic punctuation.

Is there any one voice that works over most beats?
Not really. I mean, you can manipulate any voice to sound like whatever you want. The possibilities are endless.

Have you ever been approached to do a remix?
Yeah. I’ve done remixes for Beck, Grizzly Bear, Peter Bjorn and John, and some others.

What do you love about pop music?
When you are in any style of band, you are presenting yourself to the public in a specific style. You are creating a character for them. If you want people to think you’re weird, you make weird music. If you want people to think you’re sincere, you’ll make sincere music. With pop, I think you have to be very upfront about your style. You’re trying to make music that people will like. You’re not trying to hide this in any way. I think it’s noble to want to make music the whole world can sing. It’s music everyone can relate to. You play pop at your wedding, the ultimate celebration. It’s life music.

How did you come up with the album title “Feed the Animals?”
My friend Andrew Strasser came up with it on tour last year. The fans need nourishment with music and shows where they can lose their minds. If they don’t get fed, their inner animal will die, and they will become old and boring.

Who are some of you favorite producers and why?
The Bomb Squad did really innovative work with samples. Kid 606 was the first guy I heard completely tear up a pop track using a computer. Timbaland has shaped pop. Prefuse 73 does incredibly dense but accessible tunes. DJ Premier has great sounding drums and cuts up sick samples. John Oswald pioneered working with pre-existing media to make crazy music. There are so many.

You released “Feed the Animals” as a name your own price album online. Has the Internet helped you in distributing your music?
Absolutely. It’s helping everyone distribute their music, whether they want it or not. It’s a very different world than when you needed radio or TV or a legit tour to get a national audience. Upload your stuff, and everyone hears it. It’s magic baby.

Did you find it challenging to transition from working the studio to playing out live?
Not really. This project has always been a combination of the two. I was playing live show s for two years before I ever put out an album. They are definitely connected. I flesh out ideas in the live setting and then document them in the studio.

How have your live shows evolved over the years?
Back when the music was more avant-garde, I relied on more performance antics to keep the crowds entertained: fireworks, skits, synchronized dance routines. The heart of the show was always me triggering samples live and trying to get people to have a good time. But prior to around 2004, the music was too difficult for people to dance to really. At some point, I started to play at some more house parties, where people would be listening to a mix CDr and dancing all night, then I’d come out at some point and rip a 20 minute set right in the middle of the crowd. Those shows made sense to me. That’s what I wanted every show to be like. I tried to bring that energy to every venue, and that’s when I started inviting people to get on stage with me. It wasn’t every show, just if things were flowing well. That evolved into what the show is now, which I feel fits somewhere in between a standard band performance and a house party.

Do you test tracks out live to gauge crowd reaction before putting them on an album?
Yeah. That’s why it takes about 2 years for me to put together a record. I’m constantly working on new material to try out in the live setting. The response helps give me a feel for what I want do with it.

Do you play the same set of tunes every night or do you play a different set?
Even if I go through the same exact source material, the set is never the same. Every part is as isolated as possible. Every kick drum, hand clap, vocal sample. I couldn’t reproduce a set even if I wanted to. But in general, I try to change up small parts each weekend, introduce a few things. If I’m on a longer tour, then I can’t do that as much. If it’s like that, then I’ll usually play around with similar source material every night but jump around a bit more. Skip some things certain nights, play them other nights.

When playing in other countries, do you tend to play more of a certain type of sample? (ie: More dance music samples in Europe?)
No. If I wasn’t going to play with a certain source material on my own, then I’m not going to do it to please a particular crowd. If I have something that I’ve been working with anyway that I think will go over well with a particular crowd, then I’m down to try that out. I have my musical style. If people aren’t ready for it, then that’s fine. If they are ready, then let’s ride together. I don’t want to be in the traditional DJ role where I can mold my set for any crowd. I want this to be like a band where you stick to what you do regardless of the audience. I doubt Slayer is changing their set for the European crowds.

Do you tailor your sets to fit the mood of the crowd?
Sure. Again, I stick to things that I really want to do, but depending on the response from the crowd, that will usually influence what I will get into that particular night.

Do you have any advice for up-and-coming producers?
Don’t listen to anybody. Do your thing. Don’t worry about making money. If people hate what you’re doing, then that’s probably a good indication that you are on the right track.

When you look back on this time of your life, what will you remember the most about the Girl Talk project?
All of the wonderful airport snacks.

For more info on Girl Talk, check out

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